Yesterday on CBS’ Face the Nation, New York Senator Chuck Schumer expressed optimism that a bipartisan immigration bill could be ready by the end of the week. “Over the last two weeks, we’ve made great progress,“ said Schumer, a member of the immigration Gang of Eight. “There’ve been kerfuffles along the way but each one of those thus far has been settled.”
For supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, this is encouraging news. But it’s hard to square with recent statements from the Republican side of negotiations. On Friday, for example, Florida Senator Marco Rubio again asked the Senate to slow down its movement on a bill. “Like all legislation of this magnitude, it should be reviewed and scrutinized thoroughly by numerous interested parties well before the first vote is taken,” he said.
Liukewise, several Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mike Lee of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Ted Cruz of Texas — have pressured their GOP colleagues in the Gang of Eight to refrain from “rushing” a bill or negotiating in secret. “We believe it is critical that the public and the entire Senate body be given adequate time to read and analyze the contents of any immigration bill put forth by the majority,” the senators wrote in a letter.
This almost sums up the list of demands and concerns from various GOP senators on immigration. Republicans want immigration reform, but aren’t sure it should have a path to citizenship (which could alienate their base). They think it should have a dedicated guest worker program (to satisfy the business business side of their constituency), and they want to have every opportunity to negotiate, debate, and amend, so if things run away from them, they can easily kill the bill (this is generally what senators mean when demand a “slower” process).
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to cover your political bases — most politicians want to do the right thing and keep their positions. But there comes a point when covering bases becomes an excuse for inaction. For the last two years, Republicans have catered to every demand of their base. This was partly for ideological reasons — after 2010, the ideological distance between GOP lawmakers and their constituents shortened considerably — and partly out of fear. Republicans didn’t want to alienate their most conservative supporters, lest they face a primary from someone more willing to satisfy their demands.
At the same time, if Republicans genuinely want immigration reform, they’re going to have to accept a certain amount of opposition from their base. Reforming the nation’s immigration system is a huge task, and it’s unreasonable to demand that it come with zero political risks.
In other words, these senators need to make a decision. Do they want immigration reform, or do they want the status quo? If it’s the former, then they need to lead and accept the consequences of making a decision, whatever they are.